Last year, we started hearing a lot about a Mensa Select winner called Azul. The premise seemed too simple to be fun and the claims that it was relaxing just didn’t make sense for a game like that. Thankfully we were given Azul as a Christmas present and reminded again to never judge a game by its cover or synopsis, as we have never played something so engrossing and relaxing.
In Azul, you play as a tile layer trying to make a mosaic of tiles for your king. You pick which tiles you want to build with, place them based on your strategic approach to tile laying, and try not to drop any to the “floor”. Once you place your tiles, they get applied to the wall and you score points based on how much wall coverage you have in certain patterns. Filling up rows and columns with tiles scores you more points and dropping tiles to the floor lose you points.
The theme was the first thing that didn’t catch our attention when we saw the game. At its core, Azul is an abstract strategy game that had a theme applied to it to make it more palatable for the mainstream player. Upon playing the game, it was clear the designer and publisher did a great job at applying the theme. We appreciated the idea of pulling tiles from a “factory display” where a player with the first player token gets their pick of the litter. The idea that tiles could fall to the “floor” if there wasn’t enough space was also a nice touch. Although it didn’t feel like we were building a mosaic for the king, it did feel like were in a race to make the most elaborate mosaic before the other tile layers. The artwork was absolutely gorgeous and combined with the feel of the tiles, it really was a relaxing game to play. This is something that is hard to describe, but has to be experienced.
The rules were very simple to pick up and better yet, to explain to others. On our second gaming session that occurred 2 weeks after the first, we didn’t have to refer back to the rulebook and we brought in new players who got the hang of the game after a few rounds. It doesn’t take a full game to understand the basic strategy needed, however by the time a player realizes a good strategy, it may be too late for them to change in that game. Therefore the second game becomes a lot more interesting. The ease of bringing in new players is important for any game as that’s how gaming groups can expand and the love of board gaming can spread.
While playing the game, one can start to see the math behind the game and realizes that the game brings new meaning to the idea that there is beauty in nature. It is amazing that something so mathematical was able to be laid out in such a beautiful manner. Because of how mathematical it is, it also makes you think many steps ahead to make sure you optimize your tile placement. You could haphazardly place your tiles, as you probably will do in your first game, but your score won’t be very high. If you have 3 tiles to place, you could fill up your first two rows of your placement area which guarantees you at least 2 points, or fill up the harder 3 tile row but only guarantee 1 point. Since you can’t place another tile of that same color in that row, you need to make sure you plan ahead so you don’t hold a row hostage with a color. Once you learn how to optimize what tiles you pick up, where you place them, and how you plan to score, you become a force to be reckoned with.
This is probably one of the first games that we played back to back about 3-4 times in our gaming sessions instead of going to a different game. Normally we rotate through games so each game gets balanced exposure, but in this case we kept wanting to play. The game left such a good impression that it is now one of our go-tos when debating what game to play on short notice. The ease of rules and fun gameplay make this an easy game to replay.
Azul was a game that didn’t catch our attention at first, but was a pleasant surprise that checked all the boxes once we played it. The application of their theme worked really well with the gameplay. The rules were easy to learn and teach to other new players without having to look at the rulebook. It amazed us at how the math in the game was masked by the layout of the board and the gameplay. This is a game that deserves to be on your board game shelf as it will be a go-to when trying to find a game to play with your friends that you can teach them quickly and get straight to the enjoyment phase of your game night.